Hockey completes senior weekend sweep

By Lucas Wright

Tweet: With goals from seniors Yoshi Shibata and Kyle Varzino, Illinois hockey beats Indiana Tech 5-2.By Lucas Wright

It took a team effort Saturday night, but the Illinois hockey team completed a sweep of No. 21 Indiana Tech with a 5-2 victory AGin its final home series of the year.

Five separate players found the back of the net for the Illini, and each of the five seniors: John Olen, Yoshi Shibata, Mario Pacheco, Jack Soneson and Kyle Varzino, found their ways onto the scoresheet.AG

Illinois opened the game in total control, forcing the puck into the Indiana Tech zone for most of the first period. The Illini came up empty on their early opportunities in the period, but junior Austin Zima found the back of the net on Illinois’ first powerplay opportunity.

Soon after, Varzino and Shibata each netted goals to close out the opening period with a 3-0 lead. Pacheco and Soneson assisted Varzino’s goal, Olen and Joey Ritondale assisted on Shibata’s.AG

Shibata’s goal was his first since returning from injury and his fifth this season. The fact that the goal came in the final home game of his career was a special moment for him and the team.

“For him to get back in there and not only play well but score a goal has got to be a big boost for him and the guys going into the tournament,” head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “Everybody was excited for him.”AG

Carrying a three-goal lead into the second period, Fabbrini pulled first-string goalie Joe Olen in lieu of sophomore David Heflin. The backup netminder blanked the Warriors in the period and bailed out a defense that was in need of a strong performance.

Sophomore Joey Caprio continued the scoring for the Illini in the second, adding a goal midway through the period. His was the lone goal of the period and just his second of the season.AG

Indiana Tech’s frustration reached a boiling point in the third period. Following alternating goals — two for the Warriors and one for the Illini courtesy of sophomore Eric Cruickshank — penalties were the only highlights of the period. Multiple Indiana Tech players were sent off and sophomore James Mcging and junior Eric Saulters were found in the middle of most of the skirmishes.AG

Despite being involved in a few altercations, Fabbrini was happy with his team’s ability to keep it’s cool.

“It’s going to happen when one team has something to play for and the other team doesn’t necessarily,” Fabbrini said. “I thought we did a great job of keeping our composure and staying out of any suspendable situations.”

The night will surely stick in memories of the seniors, but it is not time for them to reminisce. Illinois opens the ACHA National Tournament on March 3 against Syracuse.AG

“It’s just a surreal experience hearing that crowd roar for the last time,” Olen said. “I think this will give us some more confidence moving into the Syracuse matchup. Now that we are getting everyone back from injury we are just getting geared up for nationals.”

[email protected]@LucasWright95